The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association hail the passage of the Water Rights Protection Act (WRPA), H.R. 3189, by the U.S. House of Representatives by a 238 to 174 vote. Introduced by Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO), the legislation reiterates the limits to federal agency jurisdiction of water.
H.R. 3189 comes as a means to combat the Federal Government by way of the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from seizing water rights in exchange for land use permits, without just compensation. An issue that arose in a USFS directive applicable to ski areas was seen by industry as an issue that could threaten all water users, including ranchers, as they depend on water rights on public and private land to keep their businesses viable.
"With 40 percent of the western cow herd spending some time on public lands, the ability to have secure water rights is imperative, not only to producers but to the economy," said NCBA President Bob McCan, a rancher from Victoria, TX. "This legislation is a commonsense bill that provides certainty to ranchers and leaves water management to the states where it belongs. The federal agencies must be accountable to citizens and the states and cannot, at will, circumvent state water laws at the expense of landowners."
The legislation will prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from requiring the transfer of water rights without adequate and just compensation. Additionally, the bill supports long-established state water laws, clarifying that the federal government does not have jurisdiction.
"Our members face the same threats as ski companies do — perhaps with more at stake as they are individuals and families depending on these water rights for their livelihood", said PLC President Brice Lee, a rancher from Hesperus, Colo. "It is important to include all industries that may be impacted, to keep our rural communities thriving. Rep. Tipton's bill accomplished the purpose of protecting all water right holders, including ranchers."
PLC and NCBA supported an amendment by Rep. Tipton that made revisions to the legislation which clarified the intent of the bill. We opposed an amendment by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) that would have severely limited the legislation to become applicable only to ski operations, eliminating the efficacy of the bill for ranchers.